Conflict Resolution The Montessori Way
These Montessori techniques will help you empower your child to handle their own conflicts, rather than playing the dreaded role of referee.
While Montessori classrooms place a strong emphasis on peace and treating each other with respect, conflicts do happen. After all, young children are learning how to navigate difficult social situations and how to be in a community with others, just as much as they’re learning to read and add numbers.
It’s not realistic to expect children to work and play together without ever fighting. What we can do though is to give children the tools they need to successfully resolve conflicts with each other, without relying on us to tell them who’s right and who’s wrong.
Here are a few Montessori techniques to try at home.
Don’t force apologies
Forcing children to apologize is simply not effective. If they’re not sorry, it’s asking them to be dishonest, and it also gives them an easy out – a way to get out of discussing what really happened and simply be done with the fight.
When children come to us with a problem, it’s tempting to simply give them a solution. “Give the doll back to your sister” or “Share the Legos with your brother” seem like simple enough solutions.
There are two problems with this.
Our adult solutions never seem fair to both children.
More importantly, this does nothing to help children learn to solve their own conflicts, it just teaches them to rely on us for the answers.
Instead, try acting as a facilitator
The goal is to be a calming presence while the children talk through their own issues. Help as needed, but step back when they’ve got it. With practice, your children will be able to talk through their conflicts more and more on their own.
Keep them safe
While we don’t ultimately want to fight our children’s battles for them, this of course changes if it’s a physical conflict. When children are hitting, we always step in to separate them and make sure both children are safe before talking through the conflict.
Take a breather
If children are too upset, crying or yelling, it may not be productive to ask them to talk through a conflict right away.
When this happens, give your children the option to take some time apart to compose themselves. You might talk to them individually before they’re ready to talk to each other, or they may just need a few minutes on their own.
Once they are both calm, help them come together to talk through the problem.
Ask guiding questions
In Montessori classrooms, we are always there to help the children through the conflict resolution process if they want us to be. Our role though is to help them take turns talking and to ask guiding questions.
We might remind one child to let the other finish talking before she has her turn.
We might ask a child how he felt when his friend called him a name.
We might ask what a child needs to feel better.
The children almost always come up with their own solution, whether it’s to play a different game together, to take a break from each other, or to take turns using something.
Often the toy or work the children were arguing over in the first place is forgotten once they have a chance to express how they are feeling.
The solution your children come up with may not seem fair or reasonable to you, but that’s okay. As long as it’s safe and within the rules, let them experience what it’s like to solve their own conflicts.
This is often the hardest part, but try not to make it obvious, with either your words or facial expressions, if you think one child was being mean or unfair.
Try to remain as neutral as possible so that the children can truly own the conflict resolution process.
Remember that the goal is to help your tot learn to navigate conflicts and social situations on his own, not to solve the dilemma of whose turn it is on the swing or who had the shovel first.
This process takes practice, as it’s often second nature to simply offer a solution or dole out a punishment, especially if one child seems obviously in the wrong. Handing over the responsibility for conflict resolution to your children though will not only give them valuable social skills, it will also protect your own relationship with your children.
Avoiding judgement keeps you out of the undesirable position of always trying to figure out who’s telling the truth, who had it first, and who you’ll have to upset today. Instead, you’ll be there to comfort and guide both children as they strengthen their relationship with you and each other.